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E. Understanding A Common Back Problem

Narrator: This is Science Today. Four out of five people experience at least one episode of severe low back pain during their lifetime. Jeffrey Lotz, director of an orthopaedic bioengineering laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, says one of the causes may be disc degeneration, in which the cushion-like discs between the bones of the spine dehydrate after excessive heavy lifting.

Lotz: Typically what happens is somebody will have an acute episode of pain and they'll go in and be evaluated by a clinician and they'll note that they have a significant amount of disc degeneration which had probably been silent up until that point. And how that's dealt with usually is through conservative therapy and only in extreme cases is surgery really considered.

Narrator: Lotz is hoping to prevent people from getting to this point by studying how the discs actually react to various mechanical loads.

Lotz: If there's a way that we can define what's a good and bad occupational exposure for lifting or vibration or some of the other known hazards for the spine, then that would be one way that this model ultimately might be able to impact the patient.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.